Quick Guide to Diagnosing 8 Common Clutch Complaints

Few things bring smiles to the faces of hot rod enthusiasts like rowing through the gears of a manual-equipped car. Many folks still prefer the simple joy of stick shift driving over the hands-free convenience of the automatic transmission. And nothing’s going to change their minds—except for maybe a cranky clutch.

Of course, most people won’t let a bad clutch change their opinion about the merits of the old-school manual. Plus, once you’ve identified the problem with your clutch, you’re well down the path to rectifying the problem. That’s why we’ve put together this quick guide to diagnosing common clutch maladies. It’ll help you spend less time tracking down problems, so you can spend more time enjoying your ride!

Problem #1: Clutch Slips While Engaged

Clutch slipping typically occurs during acceleration or when large amounts of power are applied (sound familiar hot rod guys?). One of the most common causes of clutch slippage is incorrect linkage adjustment, which can prevent full spring force on the pressure plate and friction disc. Check your clutch linkage for proper free play (amount of pedal travel before you feel resistance) and adjust accordingly.

It could also be caused by weak pressure springs in the pressure plate or worn friction disc facings. There could also be grease on the friction discs, so check the front of the transmission or engine rear main bearing for leaks.

Other possible causes include:

  • Incorrect throwout bearing (too long or too short)
  • Warped friction disc
  • Broken engine mount
  • Incorrectly adjusted release fingers
  • Clutch not strong enough for vehicle’s power


Problem #2: Clutch Chatters or Grabs When Engaging

Often, clutch chatter or grabbing is caused by oil on the disc facings. Small cracks in the face of the flywheel or pressure plate, or hard/hot spots on the flywheel can also create poor clutch performance. Other things to look for include:

  • Binding in the clutch linkage
  • Broken or damaged engine or transmission mount
  • Misaligned or warped flywheel
  • Binding between friction disc hub and clutch shaft
  • Broken disc facings or springs
  • Warping of friction disc


Problem #3: Clutch Drags or Spins

Clutch drag occurs when the clutch disc is not completely released as the clutch pedal is fully depressed. This can lead to dreaded gear clash. The most common culprits behind clutch drag are poorly adjusted clutch linkage (too much free travel), a defective clutch cable, or a leak or failure in the hydraulic system.

Other possible causes include:

  • Warped friction disc
  • Warped pressure plate
  • Binding of the friction disc hub on the transmission input shaft
  • Loose friction disc facing
  • Broken engine mount
  • Improper release finger adjustment


Problem #4: Excessive Noise When Engaged

A clutch that is noisy while engaged is typically the result of:

  • Broken dampener springs in the friction disc
  • Loose disc hub on the transmission input shaft
  • Misalignment of the engine and transmission


Problem #5: Excessive Noise When Disengaged

This is often the result of bearing issues. A worn or insufficiently lubricated release bearing will make a squealing noise as it spins. The pilot bearing on the end of the crankshaft may also be worn or need to be lubricated. Other possible causes include:

  • Unevenly adjusted release fingers
  • Worn or damaged diaphragm spring


Problem #6: Clutch Pedal Pulsation

If you feel a pulsation in the clutch pedal when lightly depressed, there are a number of things to look for. This can be the result of misaligned engine and transmission, distorted clutch housing, bent or improperly seated flywheel, or warped pressure plate or friction disc. Other areas to focus on include:

  • Release fingers or levers—they may not be evenly adjusted
  • Pressure plate—it could be misaligned
  • Diaphragm springs could be broken


Problem #7: Rapid Friction Disc Wear

Often, rapid disc wear comes from “user error.” That is, the driver may ride the clutch, partially disengaging it. Any excessive or incorrect use of the clutch can cause the friction disc to wear quickly.

If this doesn’t sound like you, then look for these possible problem areas:

  • Cracks in flywheel or pressure plate face
  • Weak or broken pressure springs
  • Warped pressure plate or friction disc
  • Improper linkage adjustment (adjust for proper disengagement)


Problem #8: Stiff Clutch Pedal

If your clutch pedal seems stiff, chances are you’ve got misaligned or binding clutch linkage. Be sure the linkage is adequately lubricated and then check to make sure the clutch pedal itself isn’t getting caught in the floor mat. Verify the clutch linkage parts are properly aligned, and then check for a bent clutch pedal.


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